The Documentalist

Human Rights Day 2009: Non-Discrimination

Posted in Editorial by Sarah on December 10, 2009

2000 Census Map of Chicago illustrating racial concentrations. Image courtesy of

Today, December 10, 2009, is designated by the UN as Human Rights Day and this year’s focus is on discrimination.    As stated on the UN’s home page for Human Rights Day 2009:

The realisation of all human rights – social, economic and cultural as well as civil and political rights – is hampered by discrimination. All too often, when faced with prejudice and discrimination, political leaders, governments and ordinary citizens are silent or complacent.

This theme brings home the fact that human rights violations aren’t limited to places beyond the United States, where people suffer under authoritarian dictators, are conscripted to fight in wars that have nothing to do with them, or forced to work in inhumane conditions.  Discrimination is alive and well in the United States and prevents our own citizens from participating fully in the dignity that is guaranteed them through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One Story Up, a blog maintained by Chicago journalist Megan Cottrell,  highlights how discrimination impacts housing and education policies in Chicago.  Today’s post, “Can We End Discrimination Without Ending Segregation?”  illustrates how we skirt the race issue in housing and poverty by shifting the discourse to “mixed-income” housing developments, thus allowing us to avoid the fact that race and racial discrimination are at the heart of poverty in the US in general, and in our bigger cities in particular.  Though the human rights issues she raises focus on problems and challenges in Chicago, these are issues that impact citizens all over this country.

Ms. Cottrell does not just focus on this issue today, though–she looks at it every day, focusing her journalistic efforts on public housing as a sort of crucible in which issues of human rights, race, poverty, education, and citizenship in Chicago reflect larger social and historical patterns in the U.S. as a whole.  As she does so, Ms. Cottrell uses images, video and written testimonies in her blog to highlight injustice, structural inequality,  and a range of activism efforts all related to race, poverty, and housing in Chicago.

And in the spirit of the day, here’s an issue worth thinking about: as a member of the UN, the United States has signed treaties that bind our country to protecting and observing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  We do a pretty good job of seeking to the aidethe oppressed abroad, but  how well are we doing at home?


3 Responses

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  1. Megan Cottrell said, on December 11, 2009 at 1:57 am

    Thanks so much, Sarah, for the link. I think you explained it much better than I did 🙂

    It’s good to know that people are reading and identifying with what I write about. Thanks for highlighting, and thanks for the work you do here to bring activism to life!

    • Sarah said, on December 11, 2009 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks Megan–Your work here in Chicago raises a lot of issues that we turn a blind eye to and that we shouldn’t forget about in the field of human rights. We so often get caught up with trying to save the world that we forget about what’s happening in our own back yard.

  2. Mike said, on December 11, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    We have the right president in the White House for these types of issues. For once in my life I feel that we have a representative who cares about the people. Obama cares more about Human rights than any president in recent memory.

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